A recently announced plan to launch a major film market in Busan is only one element of a strategy to give the South Korean port city a leadership role in Asian film.
Government also wants to uproot the Korean Film Council (Kofic) and its studios from Seoul’s Dongdaemun district and plonk it down near the yet-to-be-built new home of the Pusan Film Festival.
Scheme is part of a central government decentralization plan detailed in June. Some 176 state-controlled enterprises are to be shifted out of the overcrowded capital in order to help repopulate provincial cities.
(By some measures, Seoul and its satellite towns have a combined population of 21 million, or 47%, of South Korea’s population.)
Such plans aren’t popular with anyone forced to uproot, but Kofic is trying to make a virtue of its predicament. It is promoting the notion not only that the Korean film industry would be housed in a city already home to Asia’s most successful film fest, but also that the wider region should start to think of Busan as the Asian equivalent of Hollywood.
In that context, the launch of the Busan Film Market as soon as 2006 can be seen as a strategic move, not just an opportunistic one based on the current Korean Wave.
Selling the idea to other countries in Asia such as Hong Kong, once the region’s dominant force, or Japan, now embarking on a movie export drive of its own, is going to be tough. But before it can sell this idea to others in Asia Kofic must convince a skeptical Korean film industry that this is going to be a good move.
“It is not about leaving Seoul, but about building a new industry in Busan,” says Kofic general secretary Kim Hyae-joon through a spokesman.
Kofic’s property portfolio is headed by the Namyangju Studio Complex, which was established in 1997 as the nation’s premiere filmmaking center. The complex includes indoor and outdoor studios, special-effects equipment, sound recording facilities, a film lab, and props and costume collections as well as a film museum and visual education center.
Market estimates put its value at $15 million, but the hitch is going to be finding a buyer. Critics of the scheme say that any acquisitor of the purpose-built complex would likely be from the movie industry — thereby continuing filmmaking in the capital.
Kofic says it is not going to compel any firm to move with it — “we are not forcing anyone to move, but we are building a new industry center,” per Kim — yet obviously org has plenty of muscle with the local industry. For example, it has the ability to call meetings and to require scripts and prints to pass through its hands for funding and approvals processes.
Korean film is massively popular with auds throughout Asia, but the maneuvering of its state orgs could lose the country some friends at institutional level.